Obergefell v. Hodges is destined in years to come to become as instantly recognizable as Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education.
Today, however, the name of the case may not be known but it would be difficult to find someone who has not read or heard about the United States Supreme Court’s decision Friday morning that same-sex couples can marry anywhere in the country.
While homosexual couples could already marry in 36 states as well as Washington, DC, the high court’s 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 Southern and Midwestern states — including Kentucky — must stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.
This decision generated swift reaction from local, state and federal officials.
“I haven’t had time to digest this breaking news fully because I am committed for the day to a very important strategic planning session for our area economic development,” Pulaski County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley said in a statement. “However it seems to me that the Supreme Court has taken away a responsibility that should have resided with the states. I am very disappointed in the decision. I will pray for our country and trust God that in his sovereignty, he is not surprised by this, and his eternal plans are still perfect.”
State Senator Chris Girdler issued the following statement: “Kentucky's Constitutional Amendment of 2004 made it clear that it's unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. This referendum was approved by 75 percent of the voters! Today's ruling by nine lawyers on the U.S. Supreme Court is unfortunately becoming a normal practice of constitutional revision of an unelected committee. This ruling undermines the political process that America was founded on, not to mention America's founding upon Christian principles, which we as a nation should seek to protect and which clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. I would like to remind my constituents and friends of a quote from President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address: 'From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia...could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.’”
State Representative Ken Upchurch told the Commonwealth Journal that he is “very disappointed…borderline disgusted” with Friday’s decision — calling it a “further Obamatization of the country.”
“It’s really hard as a conservative to hold any creditability in the Court when they make decisions like this,” Upchurch said, also referencing the upholding of the Affordable Healthcare Act earlier this week.
Upchurch said he agreed with Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent that it is the court’s role to interpret the law rather than legislate.
“It’s the right of the states to define marriage, not the Supreme Court,” he continued, “This is what the country has moved to. When it’s legal to murder an unborn child [referencing Roe v. Wade], it’s hard to take [the court] seriously.”
Other local representatives were not available at press time, but the newspaper did speak with Rep. Terry Mills who represented part of Pulaski County before the last re-districting.
“The Supreme Court is the ultimate authority and I accept their decision,” Mills said.
Though he considers himself a conservative and cited polls indicating that most Kentuckians are against same-sex marriage, he considers his objective as a public servant to be about making lives better.
“Millions of people’s lives were made better by today’s decision,” Rep. Mills continued. “It’s not clear to me who has been harmed.”
Both Congressman Hal Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell issued swift statements condemning the ruling.
“Since the founding of this great Nation, our laws surrounding the institution of marriage have appropriately been decided by the people of each state, according to their values and faith,” Rogers stated. “I was raised believing in the biblical roots of marriage defined as a holy covenant with God between a man and a woman, and in 2004, my fellow Kentuckians with similar values, voted to ban same-sex marriage across the state. In today’s decision to redefine marriage nationwide, the Supreme Court cast aside this Constitutional separation of powers, silencing those voters in the Commonwealth, along with millions more in other states. While I value equality, we should also be mindful to respect the religious liberty of our fellow Americans as we move into this uncharted chapter authored by
the Supreme Court."
"I disagree with the Court's ruling,” McConnell said. “Regardless of one's personal view on this issue, the American people, through the democratic process, should be able to determine the meaning of this bedrock institution in our society.
"I also believe that America is big enough to accommodate the views of all citizens-that's why going forward I hope the courts will continue to defend the important principle of religious liberty for all, regardless of their views on marriage."
Matt Bevin, Republican nominee in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race, cited Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in expressing his disagreement with the ruling and took the opportunity to challenge his General Election opponent in the process.
Justice Scalia had written, “Today's decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court."
“This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always
accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of
Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves," Bevin stated.
"Today's regrettable ruling is also the result of elected officials failing to defend the law. When Kentucky's marriage law was under attack by the courts, our own Attorney General, Jack Conway, abandoned his oath of office, and chose not to
Conway, who as the Democrat gubernatorial nominee, is Bevin’s chief opponent. Bevin continued that “Conway’s failure to do his job and defend our laws in Kentucky disqualifies him from being elected to the office of Governor. How can voters trust him not to break his oath again?"
Conway avoided comment on the campaign — issuing a statement in his capacity as Kentucky Attorney General:
"Today, the United States Supreme Court issued the final word on this issue. The ruling does not tell a minister or congregation what they must do, but it does make clear that the government cannot pick and choose when it comes to issuing marriage licenses and the benefits they confer. It is time to move forward because the good-paying jobs are going to states that are inclusive.
“As Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, I did my duty and defended Kentucky's constitutional amendment. When Judge Heyburn ruled the amendment was unconstitutional, I agreed with his legal analysis and used the discretion given to me by statute to inform Gov. Beshear and the citizens of the Commonwealth that I would not waste the scarce resources of this office pursuing a costly appeal that would not be successful.
“As the Court profoundly stated in its opinion regarding the plaintiffs, 'They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.'"
While Gov. Steve Beshear soon after the decision issued an order authorizing county clerks to issue licenses immediately, at least two Kentucky clerks (in Boone and Warren counties) declined to do so on Friday due to paperwork issues.
The Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives sent out a gender neutral form to county clerks, but it wasn’t immediately available to the lesbian couple that became the first to apply in Pulaski County Friday afternoon.
A license was issued, however, by modifying the form the clerk’s office did have to read “first party” and “second party” rather than “bride” and “groom.”